C’mon Get Happy: Bhutan’s Sunny Outlook on Life

Caitlin Hotchkiss November 18, 2013 3

Here at G, we’re confident we’ve seen unique destinations in all shapes and forms all over the world – but none of ‘em are quite like Bhutan. This small Himalayan country has managed to quietly stay off the radar for many travellers, but those in the know – and those looking for their own piece of spirituality – are aware that Bhutan’s got a ton to offer.

First, let’s talk GNH. Nope, not GDP – GNH. In Bhutan, the people care more about Gross National Happiness than Gross Domestic Product. So literally, happiness is Bhutan’s most prized export. True enough, Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest place in the world, according to a global survey. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s visited; Bhutan is a preternaturally peaceful place, owing especially to the prevalence of Buddhist culture in the country. There are legions of monks on the streets of Bhutan, preaching love and peace towards all living things.

The landscape of Bhutan also adds to the serenity of the country. Conservation laws have protected almost 75% of Bhutan’s forested areas, so there’s no lack of green spaces to meditate upon. Bhutan is also home to some of the world’s highest mountains, and there are a number of little monasteries tucked away in the cliffs. With the view of the Himalayas in the background, it’s hard to snap a bad photo in Bhutan.

Prayer flags dotting the landscape near Wangdi Phodrang, Bhutan

Prayer flags dotting the landscape near Wangdi Phodrang, Bhutan, photo by Jackie G

Sure enough, our fearless leader Bruce Poon Tip made a trip to Bhutan early in his career, and affirmed all this good stuff in his book Looptail: How One Company Changed The World By Reinventing Business. Here’s a little quip from Bruce on Bhutan:

“…by Western standards of progress and development, these people had so little, yet they were so happy. It just seemed like heaven to me, and I don’t think I can understate the importance of that trip when it came time for us to focus on happiness at G Adventures.

“In the office, we started to discuss building our business model around happiness. I had spent a lot of time since my trip to Bhutan learning about their country and their king’s Gross National Happiness model.”

All that being said, a quest for spirituality ain’t easy. There’s a restriction on solo travel in Bhutan, meaning that you have to get your trip cleared ahead of time through an agency so you have a guide with you when you explore. Also, it costs less to travel to Bhutan if you go with a group – otherwise, it’s a hefty fee to spend your time in this little country. These restrictions aren’t baseless; the fees are to help maintain the country’s natural environment and “spiritual integrity,” so think of it as an investment in helping to maintain the loveliness of Bhutan.

Bhutan snapshot

Bhutan snapshot, photo by Jackie G

Getting there

Does organizing all these fees and guides and everything sound daunting? Well, conveniently enough, we have a Classic style trip and are introducing a new Comfort style trip to Bhutan. So if you’re looking to experience nirvana alongside other happiness-seeking travellers, there’s no better chance than now. Just make sure you get there soon – Bhutan’s considered to be something of an emerging destination, and so the country is changing in order to better attract tourists. Go get some gross national happiness for yourself as soon as possible.


  1. rita November 21, 2013 at 10:36 am - Reply

    We were in Bhutan for about 2 weeks in 2012.
    Even a few days on the ground reveals a Bhutan struggling to hang on to something slipping away.

    For a country that supposedly measures in Gross National Happiness, our experience was, given it’s still relatively isolated circumstances, a Bhutan facing many of the sad realities of most of the world today.
    There is discontent among a youth raised, like a lot of the rest of the world, on a diet of MTV and VH1.
    Many of them want “off the farm”, which threatens the future of agriculture, a necessary staple of a remote community.
    Gangs are emerging in the country’s 2 cities, and locals will tell you it’s no longer safe after dark on streets of Thimpu or Paro.
    As for those pristine forests, well, a 4 day hike, camping at a different spot each night, was definitely shy of pristine.
    Gum and candy bar wrappers can be found along the paths, left behind by Yak herders and horsemen carrying supplies over the mountains.
    And we witnessed numerous occasions when people threw garbage out of their car window.
    Construction cranes proliferate, especially in Thimpu, and yes, there is traffic congestion and smog.
    The cost of living is rising while salaries stagnate.

    In short, Bhutan is like every other country in the world.

    Don’t get me wrong.
    Ancient culture still permeates.
    And Bhutan’s spectacularly gorgeous scenery and the warm welcome of the Bhutanese are more than worth the journey.
    And definitely go soon as the tourist hordes, primarily busloads of septa/octogenarians from all over the world, have already arrived.

    Just don’t be encouraged to expect what has become impossible to deliver anywhere in the 21st century.

    • Keshav Gurung December 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      Hi, Rita,
      True what you said to some extent. Development does come at a price and there are some disgruntled youth. They don’t like to work on the farms it is true but whether a student, a civil servant, a farmer or whatever, did you not notice one thing among the Bhutanese people? The opposite of xenophobia, the all welcoming smiles, the friendliness, ok, those are all the same but I mean a people who will not fall down no matter how hard the world pushes them, a people who will still smile… a cultural happiness deeply rooted that the superficial cannot remove? I have found this in my own country, having been outside most of my life, often discovering as an anthropologist would, this undercurrent of welcome, their attitude of sharing their only meal with a complete stranger, that I feel I cannot go settle anywhere else, that I am finally home in my own country…. Keshav for http://www.bhutanrebirth.com

  2. Julie K. December 2, 2013 at 6:40 am - Reply

    Seems like ages ago that I´ve heard about Bhutan and its GNH! And now I´ve come across it again:) Such a small precious jewel in the heart of the Himalayas. I´ve always been under impression that the Bhutanese people generally feel very reverent towards their heritage and really put values and spirituality first and I only hope that one day when I´ll get a chance to check this place off of my bucket list I´ll be able to say that all I imagined about Bhutan is true.

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